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Finally, A Cutting Edge Technology Company from India; In Conversation with Arvind Lakshmikumar founder, Tonbo Imaging

Raghu Mohan
30th Oct 2012
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There's advanced technology and then there's cutting edge technology. While an advanced state of technology is a desirable benchmark, an establishment has truly “arrived” when it produces cutting edge technology.The path towards becoming a developed nation, in a way, begins with the establishment of firms that employ such cutting edge technology; Japan in Electronics, Germany in Engineering is a proof of this fact.

India has been tagged as a developing country for over half a century and it shows in the technology that we have. While many countries would envy our possessions, India still needs to evolve into a developed country, and one of the catalysts for this transformation is development of cutting edge technology from India. It seems like the first drops of this catalyst have surfaced in the form of Tonbo Imaging, a Bangalore based company, with global operations.

Post a sizable $6 million dollar Series A funding from Artiman Ventures, YourStory had a chance to visit Tonbo Imaging's Bangalore office, where we were given demoes of their various products and a one on one with the brains behind this innovative venture: Arvind Lakshmikumar.

Inspired by the 40000 eyes of a Dragon Fly

“We learnt that Tonbo in Japanese means Dragon Fly. The dragon fly is a fascinating creature. It has 40000 eyes and each eye is a miniature sensor processor by itself. It gathers data from each of these eyes, processes it and makes a final image. Due to this, the dragon fly can do many things like, fly fast in low light conditions, have quick reflexes, navigate through different types of surroundings etc. When we started Tonbo, we wanted to make imaging systems that would emulate nature’s way of image processing. Although we've always known that many eyes are better than one, cameras have always been single aperture systems and if you wanted more light to come in, the aperture has to be large. Like the dragon fly's eye, our technology enables the use of many apertures and so instead of needing more light, we end up having more images. This allows us to make lighter and better imaging devices at a much lower costs than other options,” says Arvind, sharing insights into the “nature-inspired technology” of Tonbo.

Tonbo Imaging currently is looking at providing imaging services to the Security, Defense and Automobile sectors.

India's Innovation Problem: Lack of Funding and Applicable Knowledge 

According to Arvind, the lack of inflow of funds from VCs and the Government is one of the root causes behind the lack of technology innovations from India. He says “VC funds were instrumental in the growth of innovation in the US where they would make risky investments in cutting edge and niche technologies without much regard of returns. They were of the mindset that the technology that they helped develop would be used somewhere.”

“However, when all these Silicon Valley VCs came to India, they adopted a more “returns oriented” approach to funding. They would invest in ecommerce ventures as it was (and is) the flavor of the day, or a mobile internet company, but they wouldn't even think of investing in, say, a sensors business. This is one of the reasons why we raised money from Artiman Ventures. Artiman is a special fund. They are one of those few VC funds in India that will make risky investments and investments in core sciences and niche technologies.”

“The second phase of this problem is the lack of applicable knowledge. Pioneers in any science and technology industry are the guys with a applicable knowledge of what they learn at school. Unfortunately, these people in India are academics and there are not many people from the industry who have the practical know how required for cutting edge technology.”

Arvind however admitted that there is talent in India and Tonbo Imaging has about 20 top notch engineers in the imaging space working for them full time.

Arvind further quotes a scale and industry problem. He says “We've learnt some lessons from our past venture and that's why we've made Tonbo ventures an imaging products and solutions company without any affiliations to a particular industry. Our imaging products will have different manifestations in different industries and it will be international. This is my vision for Tonbo.”

The vision is grand and it is backed by capable minds and significant capital. We hope to see great products coming from Tonbo soon!

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